Bernice Moran is a Senior First Officer with Virgin Atlantic, the founder of the Be Sweet Company and a mother of three small children. How does she do it?
Most other girls would play with Barbie dolls, but what little Bernice Moran liked was planes. Her father worked for Aer Lingus and her brother was at flight school, so nobody was very surprised when Bernice announced that she wanted to fly aeroplanes too.
Far from discouraging her from a job where women are in the minority, her dad said, “Follow your star.”
Now 42, Bernice has around 20 years’ piloting experience and millions of air miles behind her. Bernice joined Virgin Atlantic in 2007 as a 747-400 pilot but now flies the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
“It’s new technology – like driving a Ferrari. It’s a beauty!” she laughs. “I always, always, always wanted to fly for Virgin Atlantic in my heart of hearts.”
Though Dublin-based, Bernice flies planes out of Heathrow to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, LA, San Francisco, Seattle and New York. “I pop on a plane from Dublin to Heathrow – it’s like getting a taxi for me – and that’s where I start to get into work mode. You meet everybody in the office, there’s a bit of banter, we do the paperwork together, we look at the flight time, we check the weather, the routing, and have a briefing with the cabin crew and we explain to them about the flight time and if there’s any turbulence and when. And then I ask, ‘What are you doing down route [when the plane lands]? What time are we meeting for cocktails?’”
Although she says her philosophy is not to take life too seriously, Bernice has some serious ambitions. As well as being a mum of three (to Elizabeth, 9, Zara, 5, and Alexander, 3), she combines her career with running a successful business, the Be Sweet Company, with her sister and business partner, Linda.
“It started with my wedding [to husband Rick, a pilot for Cathay Pacific],” says Bernice. “I had all these different types of sweets and candies, like pina coladas, fruit sours and strawberry cupcakes. I put them in beautiful apothecary jars and made a beautiful candy buffet. Soon, other people kept asking me to do events because I’d done such a good job, so I first created Be Sweet Occasions. This turned into the Be Sweet Company, where we now have 40 different products ranging from high-end chocolates to ‘grab and go’ bags of gourmet jellies. I wanted to create a brand, and source amazing chocolate fudges and candies from the best suppliers, with fantastic packaging and design.”
Bernice says she’s the creative and innovative side of the business, while Linda is the business head.
Since it started six years ago, the Dublin-based company now employs many people and exports to more than 20 countries with the biggest orders going to the US, Canada and Australia.
When she was starting out, Bernice contacted Richard Branson for advice.
“I emailed and introduced myself as one of his pilots, and said I was looking for some information on building a brand. He was extremely obliging, always at the end of the email, and answered within a few hours. I couldn’t believe it,” says Bernice. “He put me on my merry way and set up meetings for me, and I ended up getting my first contract on a major British airline.”
In April this year, her company launched Up in the Air, which are bags of jelly sweets in the shape of 747 planes that sell exclusively on Virgin Atlantic fl ights. She also opened the Be Sweet Café in Dublin at the start of the year. “Just as people have a beautiful experience when they open a box of our chocolates, I wanted people to get that experience on an everyday basis,” says Bernice.
Customers certainly have a lot of choice. Bernice says that on offer are some savouries, such as eggs Benedict or smashed avocado and poached eggs, but also “bloody Mary brunches, candy shakes, puffle waffles, all different types of candies, mermaid cupcakes, unicorn hot chocolates – and you can buy our products in our shop, too.”
So how does she manage to keep all the plates spinning? “The jobs are polar opposites – a sweet company and a pilot – but when I fly aeroplanes, the phone is off, there’s no access to emails and I am able to concentrate on my job and give it 100 per cent. But when you set the parking brake, you’re finished.”
She says that she fits the work around the flights. “I’m good at delegating, so if I’m down route and there’s research, or stuff to be done on the company, or emails to be answered, there’s plenty of down time while you’re away. It’s not too hard a chore when your office is the swimming pool at the hotel. Also, I’m lucky to have a great team of staff and they’re pretty switched on.”
Bernice is keen to instil a work ethic in her children, and says that over the summer, they helped out at the café, cleaning the tables or stocking shelves. “Elizabeth had her unicorn birthday party at the café recently and it was a huge success because she sees the work that goes into it; she helped set up everything.”
That said, Bernice’s whole life philosophy is to avoid taking things too seriously. “Life is about fun,” she says. “The brand I created, Be Sweet, is about being sweet or kind to yourself. It’s fun – just be whoever you want to be. I just want to treat everybody with kindness and give them joy – and with Virgin, I’m working for a fun brand – so they marry very well together.”